Taoist standing practice - core stability
Jayne Storey explains an advanced standing posture and looks at its benefits for developing core stability, as well as a more competitive mindset.
A traditional exercise practiced by martial artists over the centuries, Standing Practice (Zhan Zhuang) is known for its surprising toughness (postures are traditionally held for at least 60 to 80 minutes) and for its ability to develop health, strengthen the bones and tendons, increase core stability, correct any muscular-skeletal misalignments (crucial for lop-sided sports like golf, javelin, tennis etc.), increase sensitivity to balance and develop a decisive competitive spirit.
The six benefits of Standing Practice are as follows:
Other benefits include correcting misalignments of the skeleton and cultivating a calm, aware mental state ('Here and Now' thought). The more advanced posture you are going to learn here will continue to help train all the above, and due to its intensity and demanding nature, it will help to prepare your mind for increased focus, intent and competitiveness.
San Ti Shi - Three Body Posture
The foundation of Xingyiquan (Hsing Yi Ch'uan) is its stance keeping the practice of San Ti Shi, which means "Three Body Posture" or "Trinity Posture". Hsing Yi Ch'uan is one of the three Chinese internal martial arts, alongside the more well-known T'ai Chi and the more esoteric style of Ba Gua Ch'uan. To get a rare glimpse of these ancient arts in action, watch a film called "The One", starring Jet Li, in which he plays two roles - a good guy and a bad guy - the first using the fighting skills of Ba Gua Ch'uan and the other using Hsing Yi Ch'uan . These arts are known for their physical toughness and for their ability to develop the practitioner's mind to a level where the mindsets the intent for the physical movement - Hsing Yi Ch'uan means "the mind that forms the fist". The exercise you are going to learn here will help you set your mental intent for the movement skills of any sport and is particularly good if you are a competitive athlete, as it will help to increase your level of intent or desire by training your mind, breathing and nervous-system to stay focused yet relaxed under pressure.
San Ti Shi - How to Stand
For a left back stance (the opposite of that described above), mirror the posture on the other side of your body. Try 3 minutes each side at first and gradually work up to 10, 15 or 20 minutes each side.
What to expect
With your waist and shoulders facing right, while your eyes, fingers and intent are directed forward, you are learning to train your ability to release energy from the T'an Tien - your body's natural centre of gravity - which is used all the time in sports yet rarely trained in isolation. In the martial arts, this stance is used to develop Fa Jing or explosive power in your punches, and if you want to experience this, try this exercise once you can hold the San Ti Shi posture on each side for at least 5 minutes:
If you want to give yourself a challenge, try this exercise standing in front of a lighted candle and use the intent, relaxation and speed combined in your punch to generate enough force to put out the flame. Once you can do this up close to the candle, step back a little and try again.
Learning to hold the San Ti Shi stance for ten or more minutes on each side will train your core stability muscles to keep you relaxed and poised while keeping only a narrow base. Usually, we are comfortable with a wider base and stand and play sports with our feet under our shoulders. Narrowing your stance like this while lengthening your stride will help to lower your centre of gravity and increase your relaxation response, which in turn makes your body denser and stronger. This type of training also strengthens the bone marrow and tendons and is used a great deal in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it is considered a form of Chi Kung or energy training.
Having a strong intent and competitive nature is vital to achievement in sports, whether you are competing against others, against yourself, or against the time-marker on the treadmill. Masters' level swimmers who have trained in San Ti Shi, agree that their intent pool-side while warming up and getting ready to enter the water, has increased dramatically, as has their opponents' reactions to them on account of their indomitable body-language (a much over-looked weapon in the athlete's arsenal). I believe San Ti Shi can be used to great advantage by any athlete who has to face the starting blocks in some form or another. I have even worked with a potential Formula 1 driver who has used San Ti Shi as part of her race preparation, including psyching herself up on the grid at the start of a race.
Any time you need to initiate an all-out performance of pure action without heed to a reaction, internal chatter or self-observation, then San Ti Shi is the training tool for you. But remember, the exercise starts to work, just at the point when your mind wants to give up ("l am bored", "this hurts", "God, is that only two minutes?").
Stay with it, relax and breathe, and in no time, you will be stronger, quicker, ready for competition, and focused. Next time, we will look at elements of T'ai Chi for extreme and endurance sports.
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About the Author
Jayne Storey is a specialist in T`ai Chi and uses this to help athletes and teams with balance, posture, body mechanics, attention control, coordination, stress management, mindfulness....and also to create the right internal conditions for accessing the sporting zone/flow state.